MLB-bound Shohei Otani picked in first round of Japan’s draft

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Despite the declaration that he wants to pitch in MLB, right-hander Shohei Otani was picked in the first round in Japan’s amateur draft by the Nippon Ham Fighters on Thursday.

The selection means that Otani will be unable to sign with an MLB team before the end of March, per an agreement between the two leagues. That gives the Fighters a few months to try to change his mind about making the jump across the Pacific. If Otani had gone undrafted, he could have signed with an MLB team immediately. The Rangers, Dodgers and Red Sox have been labeled his biggest suitors.

“My feelings haven’t changed,” Otani said after being selected. “I’m grateful that they appreciate me, but it doesn’t change my desire to play in America.”

Fellow right-hander Shintaro Fujinami also went in the first round, getting selected by the Hanshin Tigers. Like Otani, Fujinami has been the subject of interest from MLB teams. However, it’s believed he intends to remain in Japan.